A glance at The Economist’s African cover stories over the years reveals the unfolding story of the continent. From ‘The Hopeless Continent’ cover story in May 2000 (which the publication later apologized for) to the ‘Africa Rising’ cover story in 2011 and, earlier this year, ‘The New Scramble For Africa’ — where the publication dissected the vast business opportunities across sectors and in key markets.

It is abundantly clear that forward thinking companies and organizations are looking towards Africa as part of their global growth strategies. Alongside this is the immediate and rapidly growing need for sophisticated and informed PR and communications across industries and customized for each of the 54 countries that make up the continent.

Gina Din (pictured, right), a 30+year African PR veteran and CEO of the Kenyan-headquartered Gina Din Communications, one of Africa’s top PR agencies, sat down with Claudine Moore (pictured, left), founder of New York-headquartered C. Moore Media, which has also specialized in African markets for a decade, to chat about what is in store for PR and communications in Africa during the next decade.

Claudine Moore: Just a few weeks ago the FT reported that investors had poured almost $400M into African Fintech in a week and then a couple of weeks later Jack Dorsey announces he is moving to Africa next year for three to six months. It seems that in 2019 there has been an explosion of interest in Africa but, I think this has been brewing for a while. What do you think the implications are for PR on the continent?

Gina Din: Yes, there has been great interest in the continent for a number of years and we are starting to see investors pour more money in and take advantage of viable business opportunities. This comes as no surprise to me or for those of us who have worked on the continent. We are a resilient people, we have an educated workforce, and a youthful population who are hungry for success and eager to rewrite the narrative that has defined their continent for so long. It’s this combination of factors driven by a background of innovation and technology that are peaking the interest of investors. With this, there will be an even greater need for not just strategic communications but, hyper localized communications as well. In the next decade a ‘one size fits all approach’ simply will not work across Africa. We are 54 different countries with over 400 different languages spoken, we are complex.

CM: I love Tony O.Elumelu’s Africapitalism philosophy of transforming private investment into social wealth, with home-grown African businesses meeting social and economic needs by creating goods and services with an innate understanding of the local environment. You said something similar about the African communications industry when we were at GAFCOMM in Rwanda this summer.

GD: I can’t stress the importance of understanding the African context. 54 countries, 400 languages spoken, the nuances are critical. It is the reason why people like Tony Elumelu, Strive Masiywa and others have succeeded in environments where many global organisations struggle. You must know the local landscape that you’re operating in. That is something I have always advocated for and it has been critical in the work we have done for our local and global clients. I have been proud to offer our clients global standards with local knowledge and insights. This is crucial.

CM: Yes, a mistake many brands have made is to think they can simply ‘cut and paste’ the strategy, tactics, messaging etc. that they have used in Western markets and this simply is not the case. Understanding the nuances of local culture and incorporating them into your strategy while still aligning with the global brand is key. 

CM: We can’t really look forwards without looking at the past. I have been working in the African PR industry for the last decade and have seen changes such as the explosion in the use of social media and the need for more industry wide regulations and ethics policies post the Bell Pottinger scandal. Where was the industry the decade before this one and what do you see happening in the next?

GD: The last decade for us was defined by the democratization of the media space. When I started in the industry, media comprised of state-owned radio and television stations, in the past 20 years this space has grown with growth of private TV and radio stations which meant quickly adapting the rapid changes. Mobile phone adaptation and penetration continues to impact the economic and social landscape in a way that no one had quite anticipated. Having been at the seat when Safaricom were launching, I can tell you then that if you had told us that we would be at 90% we would have laughed but, here we are now with mobile penetration at an average of 67% on the continent.

With what we have seen over the last three years, I think PR on the continent will be defined by a combination of growth of new media, increased internet access, mobile penetration and growth of big data. My bet is on data analytics playing a more critical role in brand decisions and digital taking the lead in engagement. The disruption from innovation and technology is changing the PR industry and more than ever we shall need to be more than storytellers but also story creators and protectors. The PR industry has changed rapidly not just in Africa but, all over the world. With the digital revolution we’ve all had to evolve how we operate as PR practitioners and we’ve had to adapt in order to stay relevant. I see data as the next big asset in PR. It’s already happening, but I believe it’s going to inform a lot more of our work in Africa moving forward.

CM: I think the explosion in tech is going to continue to grow in Africa which is exciting as I think this will help leapfrog us in terms of development. As a result, tech PR is growing rapidly too. Even in our business we have been working with more African focused tech startups in the last 18-24 months than ever before and specialist boutique agencies like African tech-focused Wimbart PR out of London are quickly and massively growing too.

GD: Definitely. Kenya is known as a silicon savannah due to the large number of start-ups and tech companies that are emerging. The nature of PR is to anticipate and meet the needs of our clients and the business community. We will continue to see this with tech all over the continent.

CM: This will especially be the case with the growing need for pan African campaigns for African and Africa-focused start-ups. African tech companies are expanding across the continent such as Kenyan based logistics company Lori Sytems which, recently launched operations in Nigeria. In addition, you have venture capital firms like Africa-focused EchoVC expanding their global footprint by growing their Kenyan office. All this means both international communication strategies, alongside pan African ones.

CM: I continue to be disappointed with the lack of interest in African success stories. The global media still has a skewed view of Africa and lets be honest, a lot of that is not just down to lack of knowledge but also racism.

GD: It’s crazy to me that we are still having this conversation especially in leading global news outlets which is why the growth of digital is critical as it's disrupting the established power structures. The recent job posting by the New York Times for an East African bureau chief is just another example of a reputable media outlet failing. It is 2019, we cannot be referring to ‘unexpected stories of hope’ in Africa. However, I am inspired by the fact that millennials and Gen Z generation are not taking this lying down. They are pushing back at the negative stereotypes and finding ways to tell their own stories. In Kenya, Twitter has been the platform used to push back on such stories. We have also seen organisations like the BBC invest in telling more success stories from the continent when they launched the largest office outside the London HQ in Nairobi in 2018. So, there are some people who are doing the right things, though not enough but I remain optimistic in the next generation to tell their own success stories while holding everyone else accountable.

CM: We can’t talk about business and not talk about gender equality. I was amazed and so proud to see that Africa is leading the world in female board representation according to a McKinsey report, which you took part in.

GD: Gender equality is something that I am very passionate about. Navigating the corporate ladder as a young woman and starting my own business 21 years ago I learnt a lot. The McKinsey “Women Matter” report highlighted that Africa is outperforming the world when it comes to women’s representation in leadership positions. In the private sector, African women hold 5% of CEO positions and 23% of executive committee positions, in comparison to the global average of 4% and 20% respectively. Rwanda, meanwhile, has the highest number of women in parliament in the world with 64%. It is great to see Africa leading the world at this level. Diversity is good for business everywhere.

As mentioned, a glance at The Economist’s African cover stories over the years reveals the unfolding story of the continent and considering the publication's timing of these cover stories, it is likely they will publish another one within the next decade. Like many executives who focus on the African sector, there is always eternal optimism and hope for the future and if one was to predict the next Economist African cover story, we predict (and hope) the headline would read ‘Africa on Top’.

Photo credit: Social Media Week, Lagos www.smwlagos.com